Twice Over's perfect timing earns Cecil heartfelt cheers

Veteran trainer proves popular victor as he claims a fourth Eclipse success
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The Independent Online

Be glad that the sport still has its priorities right; the next appearance of the Derby winner continues to exert a fascination. But regretfully for those involved in staging the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, Workforce's date is at Ascot later this month, leaving yesterday's 113th running of the first of the season's elite inter-generation clashes just a little short on equine charisma.

That is not to decry the talents of the winner Twice Over, an admirable and undeniably high-class performer. But in beating the 33-1 shot Sri Putra, all-out by half a length, the 13-8 favourite did no more – and possibly slightly less – than either the formbook or the market suggested he would.

So for the day's frisson, look instead to the horse's trainer, the remarkable Henry Cecil. It has been well-documented how the 10-times champion has turned a slump in his glittering career around after personal and ongoing health problems and, as dapper as ever in trademark matching tie and socks (butter-yellow on this occasion), was accorded three heartfelt and heartening cheers as he welcomed Twice Over and rider Tom Queally back into the winners' circle. It was 41 years since he gave notice of what was to come by taking the great 10-furlong prize in his first season with a licence.

Twice Over was one of only two runners yesterday already proven in victory at the top level; the other was the mare Dar Re Mi, having her first run in more than three months. In a disappointingly small turnout, further reduced to five when Mawatheeq refused to enter his starting stall, tactics were always going to be crucial and Queally executed his team's plan to perfection.

On his previous run, the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, Twice Over had gone down by half a length after experiencing traffic problems. This time Queally seized the initiative from the off on the five-year-old, ensuring both a clear run and the strong, even pace he wanted. In the early stages the handsome son of Observatory was shadowed by Dar Re Mi, but shook her off readily with a change of gear early in the straight and had just enough in reserve to hold Sri Putra and Viscount Nelson, the sole three-year-old challenger, at bay over this testing uphill finish.

"There was always the risk of there being no pace," said a relieved Queally, "and what I didn't want was a sprint finish, as he'd stayed on all the way to the line the last day. He's a horse with a great attitude and I was awfully glad the line came in time."

Twice Over, owned and bred by Khaled Abdullah, was Cecil's fourth winner of the Eclipse, the others being Wolver Hollow back in 1969, Wollow in 1976 and Gunner B two years after that, though the intervening barren three decades had featured near-misses and hard-luck stories, notably from Reference Point and Bosra Sham.

Cecil, though happy to acknowledge, with some obvious emotion, the waves of sunny goodwill flowing from both public and his fellow professionals, was as quick as any trainer to acknowledge the squad effort involved in such a moment. "It's a lovely day," he said, "but not just for me, for all the staff back home, because without them this sort of thing wouldn't happen. It's especially good because of what happened at Ascot. I hate making excuses, but I really do think he was unlucky that day."

Twice Over, who added yesterday's £283,000 Coral-sponsored prize to his Champion Stakes last year, is a 10- furlong specialist and will ply his Group One trade over the intermediate distance for the rest of the year, with the York International and a repeat in the Newmarket showpiece pencilled in.

Twelve months ago Sea The Stars confirmed both his brilliance and his versatility when he added the Eclipse to his 2,000 Guineas and Derby, but his eyecatching successor at Epsom, whose opponents in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 20 days' time will include Dar Re Mi, is a true mile-and-a-half runner.

This afternoon at Longchamp, though, a horse whose multi-distance talents have yet to be heralded outside his own country will stake his own claim to be regarded as Europe's best three-year-old. Lope de Vega, who last month impressively added the Prix du Jockey-Club to his local Guineas, reverts to a mile in the Prix Jean Prat, with Richard Hannon-trained Dick Turpin providing a solid yardstick among his opponents.